Maree Jones is a social media manager for The Community Company, as well as a sought-after speaker and thought leader in the world of social media marketing.
Although the word “tightwire” was first coined in 1928, mothers have long-practiced their own version of this high-flying balancing act. As both a biological mother and a foster mother, I’ve seen firsthand how tricky it is to be successful in multiple areas of life, namely motherhood, and career.
Being a foster mother, in particular, can take the “fun” out of funambulism (tight rope walking, for those of you who haven’t mastered your Cirque du Soleil vocab yet). When I became a foster mother in early 2018, I was unaware of some of the difficulties I would face as a working mother.
Since May is National Foster Care Month, it is the perfect time for both parents and employers alike to understand the needs of these foster parent daredevils and how to address some common scenarios that arise for foster parents while they have a placement.
Navigating fostering as a working mom
According to the AFCARS, nearly half a million children are currently in the foster care system in the U.S. Although the need varies from state to state, over 200,000 children can enter and exit the foster care system throughout a year. Of those, nearly 80 percent are in some type of foster home, whether it’s pre-adoption placement, living with a relative or in a traditional foster home.
Because the number of foster children is so high, one can imagine how many full-time working foster parents there must be in the U.S. And though many states pay a stipend to foster families who have an active placement, it is typically only enough to cover the absolute basics—averaging only $15 to $16 per day in my state for our current placement. Many parents require a full-time income to cover other necessities for their household.
When my husband first broached the idea of becoming foster parents, I was skeptical. And very busy. When I saw the list of things our household must accomplish to get certified, that skepticism turned into a feeling of overwhelm. Fortunately for me, I was in a position that allowed me to work remotely from anywhere in the U.S. Indeed, having a job or role that was flexible enough to work from home was the impetus in us taking that first step toward foster certification. I soon realized how lucky I was.
As we received our first placement, the feeling of overwhelm quickly came back when I realized how many during-the-work-week appointments, visits, and meetings there would be. Depending on the child placed in your home and their specific needs, there may be visits with the birth family, counseling, and doctor’s appointments, DHR drop-ins, and more to take into consideration. My overwhelm evolved into gratefulness at the lifestyle my family already had in place to accommodate these needs. Otherwise, I don’t know how we would have made it work.
I still work remotely, yet I am in awe of many working foster mothers who continue to work demanding in-office jobs while also maintaining their foster certification status. Upon speaking to some of these moms, I realized that there were several common themes to the specific difficulties they faced.
What foster parents need from employers
1. Time off to find child care
Finding dependable child care for young children is a challenge for almost every working parent. What many people don’t realize, however, is that securing child care for foster children can be fraught with additional difficulties. Whether it’s finding a provider near you who accepts state subsidies or payments, or finding one with an opening for whatever age group you’re placed with, daycare selection is limited. And, unlike with birth or adoptive children, there is very little advanced notice, planning, or warning as to the child you will be placed with and what type of care they will need. Therefore, it is common for foster parents to need a few days off after they receive a placement to secure someone to watch their child. According to many foster women I know, asking for just two to three days off after a placement is difficult, as many employers are inflexible at such short notice.
2. Flexibility for unexpected schedule changes
Typically, when you receive a placement, you also receive a brief history of the child that includes specific medical or special needs. Many times, these needs are not identified until well after the child is in your home. For foster parents, weekly appointment time can quickly add up. There is a required doctor’s visit soon after the child is placed in your home, not to mention regular visits with either the birth family, DHR, or other parties. While some states or counties may provide transportation for the children to go to and from each of these visits, much of that responsibility still rests on the foster parent. Because I work from home, I have some flexibility in my schedule, which allows me to be present and to take our child wherever they need to go. Many working women cite weekly appointments as another difficulty for the same reason as childcare: rigidness of employers.
3. Employer protections and benefits
The idea that foster parents aren’t recognized as “real” parents, at least as far as workplace legalities are concerned, is one that makes me sad and angry. Although foster parents are included in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), HR handbooks rarely extend benefits to foster parents. As many workplaces continue to make significant strides when it comes to providing paid maternity and paternity leave, there’s still the glaring omission of foster parenting that needs addressing.
How you can help
Indeed, if motherhood is a tightrope act in and of itself, being a foster mother can feel like someone is grabbing the balancing pole away from you, making it that much more difficult. If you are an employer, there are many ways to support your foster parent employees, such as:
Understanding their need for flexibility
Providing opportunities to work remotely when needed
Taking PTO into consideration for employees with active placements
If you are a working foster parent, bringing up these issues with your HR department, boss, manager, or supervisor can make a big difference, but the sooner, the better. In my experience, having open communication, educating them, and setting expectations upfront can help your managers or supervisors better understand your specific needs. In turn, they may look for ways to help you be there for your child while also continuing to be a stellar employee. Likewise, finding a company with more flexibility baked into their culture is an approach that works for many foster parents.
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, please don’t let the difficulties mentioned here discourage you. Workplaces are becoming more progressive every day. And the number of children who need homes isn’t lessening. It’s vital that more families open their doors whenever they can. A tightrope act? Absolutely. But it’s also a labor of love and something that’s truly fulfilling.